Daniel Sapp’s life and times

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In a previous column, we told of the popular horse race track and fair grounds that used to exist in the area where the Pekin Housing Authority residences are now located. For much of its existence, the race track was owned and operated by a prominent local farmer, land owner and public official named Daniel Sapp, popularly known in the area as “Uncle Dan Sapp.” This week we’ll turn a spotlight on Sapp’s life and times.

Though he was probably best known for his race track, Sapp also enjoyed success in agriculture and as a breeder of horses. He also held several public offices in Tazewell County. His biography was included in the 1894 “Portrait and Biographical Record of Tazewell and Mason Counties, Illinois,” pages 335-36, which enumerated his record of public service up to that point as follows:

“A Democrat in politics, Mr. Sapp served for twelve years as Supervisor of Spring Lake Township, and was the Chairman of the County Board for some time. In 1886 he was nominated for County Treasurer, and was elected by a majority of two hundred, he and one other candidate being the only Democrats who secured election that fall. Entering upon the duties of the office in December, 1886, he served with efficiency until December, 1890.”

Three years after the publication of his biography, Sapp went on to run successfully for mayor of Pekin, serving a two-year term. He later ran again for mayor in 1905 and served a second two-year term. In memory of his service and achievements, Sapp Street in Pekin was named for him.

No doubt one of the things that helped him achieve the success and prominence he enjoyed were her personal connections – he was related by marriage to the important Prettyman family of Pekin. Sapp was married twice, both times to members of the Prettyman family. His first wife was Elizabeth (Prettyman) Offutt, who passed away in 1887. He remarried in March 1893 to Nellie (Prettyman) Smith, who was his first wife’s niece – Nellie was one of the daughters of Pekin pioneer and attorney Benjamin S. Prettyman, who had held several public offices and had himself served a term as Pekin mayor.

Here are excerpts from Sapp’s published biography from the “Portrait and Biographical Record”:

“Daniel Sapp, proprietor of the Spring Lake Stock Farm, and one of the successful stockmen of the Illinois Valley, was born in Fleming County, Ky., May 18, 1842. When a mere child he was left an orphan and thus thrown upon his own resources. At the age of fourteen years, in 1856, he accompanied a stock trader to Bloomington, Ill., where he worked on a stock farm at Randolph Grove for two years. As may be imagined, his school advantages were necessarily very meagre, and all the knowledge he now possesses has been practically acquired by self-culture.

“The year 1858 witnessed the arrival of Mr. Sapp in Spring Lake Township, Tazewell County, where he assisted in breaking prairie and doing farm work, being for three years in the employ of one man, and receiving as compensation for his services forty acres of land in Peoria County. Of this property he was naturally quite proud, as it was the first he had ever owned and had been gained through his unaided exertions. In 1861 he entered the employ of the Memphis Ice Company and went south for them, having charge of the ice barges. He also attended to the unloading and sale of ice, and the securing of the collections. In May, 1861, when travel was especially dangerous on account of the war, he went south as far as the mouth of the Arkansas River with two barges, and on his return to Memphis Dr. Smith, of that place, gave him a letter to Gen. M. Pope, which secured his passage through the lines. He then returned to Spring Lake Township.

“In 1863 Mr. Sapp was united in marriage with Mrs. Elizabeth (Prettyman) Offutt, a native of Delaware. After that event he settled on his present farm and engaged in raising grain and stock. From time to time he has added to his original purchase until his landed possessions now aggregate two thousand acres, for the most of which he paid $40 or $50 per acre. This farm is pleasantly situated on the Mackinaw River seven miles south of Pekin. Here he built a substantial residence, 72×36 feet in dimensions and two stories in height, which was the most elegant rural home in Tazewell County. Unfortunately the dwelling burned to the ground, but it was afterward replaced by another attractive and conveniently arranged house, a trifle smaller than the first. . . .

“After the death of his wife, in 1886 (sic – 1887), Mr. Sapp came to Pekin, and during the following year he purchased two hundred and thirty-two acres within the corporate limits of the city. Here he has a one-mile track, as fine as any in the state. The farm in itself is well improved with a barn, 100×36 feet in dimensions, with two wings 36×36 feet, and two large sheds outside. On the place are usually about one hundred horses. . . .

“In 1887 Mr. Sapp began breeding standard horses, commencing with ‘Billie Wilkes,’ which he still owns. . . . Mr. Sapp is one of the most extensive breeders of standard horses in central Illinois, and his reputation in that line is not limited to Pekin or Tazewell County, but extends throughout the state.

“The second marriage of Mr. Sapp occurred in March, 1893, uniting him with Mrs. Nellie Smith, a daughter of B. S. Prettyman; she is an accomplished lady, and was born and educated in Pekin. . . [Sapp] has traveled extensively throughout this country, and has been in every state except Florida and Washington.”

Just two years after completing his second term as mayor of Pekin, Daniel Sapp died July 13, 1909. He is buried in Lakeside Cemetery, Pekin, where his second wife Nellie is also buried. His first wife, Elizabeth, is buried in the old Prettyman Burying Ground near the former site of Circleville.

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This lithograph engraving of Daniel Sapp’s residence on his stock farm south of Pekin was published in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.”

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